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George Gershwin: His Life and Work Hardcover – January 15, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 884 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (January 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520248643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520248649
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 2.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. University of Houston music professor Pollack (Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man) offers a look at Gershwin so exhaustive and comprehensive that it stands as a definitive statement. Bibliographic notes filling 100 pages indicate the extent of this in-depth re-examination. Scholarly yet entertaining, Pollack's survey is not chronological; it's divided into two book-length sections. In part one, a study of popular music trends serves as an overture to Gershwin's musical influences, his childhood and Tin Pan Alley years, followed by a look at Gershwin as a pianist and conductor through his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. The book's second half, titled "Work,'' is an ambitious attempt to document Gershwin's entire output, from orchestral works to theater, radio and films, including the role of lyricist Ira Gershwin in reworking his brother's tunes, as he did for Billy Wilder's 1964 film Kiss Me, Stupid. The creation of Porgy and Bess and subsequent revivals, films, concerts, recordings and jazz interpretations (notably by Miles Davis) fill several chapters with fascinating details. Gershwin's innovative synthesis of classical, blues and jazz into a "glorious body of work" is illuminated by Pollack's insightful analysis. 51 b&w photos. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Pollack's preface indicates his book builds on the work of many chroniclers of composer George Gershwin's life and work, and he names 10 of them. However, their books largely predated not only the appearance of a number of important publications, dissertations, recordings, and performances but also the availability of a variety of archival materials, including a large cache of Gershwin manuscripts discovered in 1982 in a Warner Brothers warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. This biography is organized along partly thematic, partly chronological lines. Part 1, "Life," contains chapters depicting Gershwin's childhood and family and his musical education, early relation to popular music, achievement as a pianist, youthful activities on Broadway, friendships and love affairs, involvement with serious music, and lifestyle and character. Part 2, "Work," surveys Gershwin's output from his earliest compositions to those pieces that his brother, Ira, lyricized after Gershwin's death, in 1937. Pollack examines many of the composer's films, recordings, and critical writings; he provides, for each of Gershwin's shows, a synopsis of the story, details about the cast, and other aspects of its first production. With 51 black-and-white photographs, this engaging biography is also a tour de force of scholarship. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I read this book several times and found it well documented and well written.
karengersh
Pollack does not question the actions of his subjects, he reports and tells a story, leaving the reader to make his or her own judgements.
Karl F. Miller
As such, Pollack analyzes Gershwin's theatre scores closely just as classical music scholars can attend to Mozart or Haydn's works.
John McWhorter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 76 people found the following review helpful By John McWhorter on December 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Gershwin buffs, run, don't walk to get this book. Pollack has written the definitive study of both "The Life" and "The Work," as per his two fat sections.

Pollack's book is, for one, the first Gershwin bio that takes advantage of the discovery of mountains of original orchestra parts for Golden Age musical theatre scores in a Secaucus warehouse in the early eighties. As such, Pollack analyzes Gershwin's theatre scores closely just as classical music scholars can attend to Mozart or Haydn's works.

Earlier bios could only address the scores largely on the basis of the songs from each score that happened to be published as sheet music, with only a handful of the scores then existing as full piano-vocal scores or as latter-day abridged and heavily adapted recordings. But over the past two decades, most of Gershwin's significant scores have been recorded in full from the discovered materials, such that via these recordings as well as examining the original materials himself, Pollack can address the work as it was presented when it was new, i.e. chorus numbers, character songs not published as sheets, incidental music, etc. Given that musicals constituted the bulk of Gershwin's output in his short life, this alone makes Pollack's book invaluable.

In addition, some Gershwin bios have been written by people focused on pulling him down, devoted to revealing him as an undereducated, boorish parvenu (i.e. the ones by Charles Schwartz and Joan Peyser). Pollack's sleuthing and interviews conclusively demonstrate that these evaluations were incorrect: Gershwin pursued serious musical training throughout his life, it shows in his work, and socially, he was a beloved, charming person who was deeply mourned at his death.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Karl F. Miller on May 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We usually apply the term genius to the subject of a biography. With the writing of Howard Pollack, one can also apply that term to the biographer.

When I first heard that Pollack was at work on a biography of Gershwin, I was saddened to think that he would be devoting his time to someone who had been the subject of so many biographies. I thought, what else was there to be said about Gershwin, but when I recalled the balanced and thoroughly considered approach he brought to his biography of Copland, I was curious to read what he would write. Not only was I not disappointed, I was overwhelmed.

Pollack does not question the actions of his subjects, he reports and tells a story, leaving the reader to make his or her own judgements. There is no attempt to sensationalize anything as he lets the facts speak for themselves. Pollack treats his subjects with the greatest respect without losing sight of their humanity. He brings great dignity to his writing and to his subjects.

His use of the language is transparent. You are never slowed down by his words. When he writes about music, Pollack has a remarkable ability to engage both the musician and non-musician alike. As with his volume on Copland, you sense he knows the music so well that he can intuit what the composer intended with each new work. He seeks out so much of the related material one would think he has devoted his entire life to the study of his subjects. You are aware of the detail, but not overwhelmed or encumbered by it.

I found the quotes from Michael Feinstein to be very informative. Feinstein, is not only the great exponent of popular music of the tradition of Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, et al; he is also one of the most informed in the music of that period.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Converse on December 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't have much to add to what others have said on this site. But I have read most of the other Gershwin biographies, and this one is by far the most complete. It's less about Gershwin the man than Gershwin the artist--but doesn't that make it a richer read? Very few of Gershwin's contemporaries still have the fame that they once had, but he's as well known as ever. Why? It isn't because of what he was like at a party or some such. It was the music he wrote.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By pcwluhn on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Pollack's book is clearly aimed at Gershwin fan(atics)--it's an inch-by-inch biography that focuses more on the artist (and the music) and less on the man per se. But that's not a criticism. There are plenty of books that delve into Gershwin's personal life; Pollack's is the definitive look at Gershwin the creator. Granted, there's an overwhelming amount of detail--about every single music teacher, about every single piece he wrote, and how all of it interrelates. At times, the minutia drives you nuts (especially when Pollack gives the reader lengthy plot summaries about every musical Gershwin wrote); but ultimately, it all adds up to the fullest, most complete picture of Gershwin we've ever seen. Pollack convincingly (and finally) dispels many misconceptions about Gershwin (especially his ability to orchestrate), and reveals new depths and insights about the man's work. Once you read a classic bio (such as Edward Jablonski's), turn to this book next.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By UrungaJeff on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After 70 years or so since George died so tragically, much has been written, however, Howard Pollack gives new meaning to comprehensive. I became a Gershwinaholic in my early teens having seen the film "An Amercian in Paris" and I needed this volume to round off my collection. Totally engaging and extremely well researched with much new information, this is a must-have for all who love Gershwin and his music.
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